Local cardiologists raised their eyebrows when exercise scientist Harry DuVal came to Athens in 1980 and tried to convince their heart-attack patients to hit the gym. When DuVal was hired by the University of Georgia to design and direct the university’s fitness center, Athens-Clarke County did not have a cardiac rehabilitation exercise program. Such programs were still fairly rare throughout the Southeast.
But DuVal’s persistence paid off as he convinced an Athens cardiology specialist to help coordinate the program and spread the word about the benefits of exercise. Although only four people attended the first sessions, the promising positive results they experienced soon brought dozens of curious patients to the fitness center’s door.
“Now, both hospitals have their own cardiac rehabilitation programs but local cardiologists still refer some patients to our facility,” said DuVal, who still directs the center.
Twenty-seven years later, the center has helped more than 800 cardiac patients and 700 adult fitness participants from the Athens area work toward a healthier life. About 100 participants sign up every year, and some have been working with the program for more than 15 years.
“I feel pretty proud,” DuVal said. “It has grown exponentially.”
Besides offering a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program for people recovering from heart attacks, the fitness center also conducts exercise testing, evaluation and adult fitness programs. The facility provides stationary bicycles, free weights, weight machines, a swimming pool and aerobics classes.
Located in the Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activities, the center boasts more than 7,000 square feet of space and is equipped with all the high-tech gadgetry needed to perform physician-supervised stress tests and the emergency lifesaving equipment required to operate a Phase III cardiac rehabilitation program.
After consulting with their doctors, patients sign up for the program, undergo initial testing and work with exercise specialists to devise the perfect plan to boost their recovery.
The center also serves as a living laboratory for students majoring in kinesiology to gain hands-on experience and gives university researchers the chance to conduct on-site experiments. Students conduct and monitor exercise classes under the guidance of their major professors, and kinesiology researchers have published important findings in scholarly journals that are drawn from their work with the fitness center.
The clinic works with students in the Clinical Exercise Physiology (M.A.), Exercise Physiology (M.A., Ph.D.) and Exercise Science (Ed.D.) programs to prepare for jobs in schools, research facilities and private practice.
The fitness center is open to the Athens community as well as students, faculty and staff at the university.